In 2015, Edilsa Argentine-Lopez received a Higher Education scholarship from YWA. We talked to her about her life and her accomplishments below.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. I recently graduated from UT Austin and that is one of my proudest moments. I have one single baby photo of me and a graduation photo, both next to each other on my wall, and when I look at it, I am so amazed that I have graduated college. It is one of my proudest moments because I could be dead now after all the tragedies that happened to me, but I am not. As a little girl I grew up hiding, running away, getting beat up, crying and being scared so when I look at my baby photo, I never imagined I could have made it alive.
Q. You have two siblings back in Guatemala — tell me more about them and what you provide and wish for them.
My family and I decided to come to the U.S. to escape; My father’s threats, extreme poverty and to have a better future. However, on our way here, we were all separated. I was kidnapped and taken away from my mom and siblings. I ended up escaping but ever since that time I have not seen my siblings. I have been able to provide for my mom and my siblings even though it has been hard. That is why I work very hard, with them in my mind.
Q. Do you help the community back in Guatemala in any way?
A. Because of what my family went through in Guatemala, we decided to start an initiative to help single moms, children, elderly and disabled families with necessities. For the past 3 years, we have been able to send clothes, food baskets, toys, money, etc to these families. We have named our program Extending Hands, as a way to say we are just extending or giving what we have received by grace, so by grace we give. Even though it is not much, in Guatemala the things from the U.S. are so big and never taken for granted.
Q. And you’re writing a book! That’s so great. How did that idea come about? Are you self-publishing or is a publishing house involved?
A. Yes, I am! The idea came after I told a few people about my life experience. It was only after I graduated college that I started to open up about the experiences I lived because I believe somehow I was still getting through the trauma. The idea for the book came after a couple of my mentors, one is a teacher in NY, really encouraged me to start writing a book. There have been so many accusations towards undocumented immigrants, I wanted to share my experience and shed some light into discussions and the real life experience of people who decide to embark on a journey to the U.S.
Q. You’ve advocated from immigration-related issues — what are your thoughts on the current political climate? Are you hopeful for the future of policy? What would you like to see change regarding the immigration system here in the U.S.?
A. I got involved with the immigrant movement in 2008, I started advocating for the DREAM Act and was in D.C. when they were voting on the act and watched it fail. Ever since that time, I have always fought for immigration issues, deportation cases and in-state tuition. I was undocumented all my life in the U.S. until about 2 years ago when I obtained my DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). I was not able to work so life was more difficult because I did not have much money to support my siblings and not even myself. While I am grateful for it, DACA is temporary. I have to renew it every 2 years. With the elections, there are so many uncertainties for many students, families and children. The current political climate is absolutely worse than what I have seen before. Ever since 2010, when I was sitting at the Senate Gallery, listening to the Senators laugh while they voted against the DREAM ACT, I lost my faith in politicians. Currently, during this presidential elections, I do not see that there is a priority to fix the immigration policy. However, I will always fight until the end. No matter what happens, I am still hopeful that things will work out. I see myself as a leader and I know I will fight until the end for my friends, my family and other families as well. At the end, the fight is up to us so we have to fight and not place our faith in politicians. I am uncertain of what the future holds but I am sure of what I have to do now.
Q. How has education benefited you?
A. You have no idea. First, I am able to put my skills into action. I love finance, international business/relations, foreign policy, etc. and having an education allows me to work in those fields. I am so thankful to have an education. There are so many children in other countries who never have the opportunity to have an education and just have to work. When I was growing up, going to school was not a priority for me, I only worked for my siblings, but I just had such a passion to learn. It has opened doors and has made it possible for me to be an example to my siblings and others who have many obstacles in their lives.
Q. What is your position now and where?
A. I currently work for a holding company in the finance department. I work very hard, I do finances and accounting and international business. It is a great way to put my abilities and skills to use.
Q. What are your hopes for your future?
A. I have so many more hopes and aspirations, but most importantly to be an example, a leader, a strong woman and loving person. I am extremely thankful to everyone who has helped me, especially organizations who have chose me for scholarships! Thank you so much! You have no idea who scholarships helped me!
You can learn more about Edilsa’s story here